The Railroad Through History

An educational tour of Madrid Railway Museum and its Collection

By Spanish Railways Foundation

Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles

A fascinating journey through history as seen through the locomotives and passenger cars kept at the Madrid Railway Museum. Learn about the development of traction (steam, electric, and diesel) over the more than 150-year history of the Spanish railroads, and the varying conditions experienced by passengers traveling in different eras.

First stop: Madrid-Delicias station

This station was the first in Madrid of a permanent nature, built with a modern metal structure.

The project was undertaken by French engineer Émile Cachelièvre using the very latest construction techniques, which Henri de Dion had previously used to build the "Galerie des Machines" at the Paris World's Fair of 1878, with great success.

Madrid Delicias Railway Museum by Madrid Railway MuseumSpanish Railways Foundation

Delicias was built as the terminus of the new direct railroad line from Madrid to Ciudad Real, which continued to the Portuguese border via Badajoz. Shortly after the station was opened, it was sold to the recently established Compañía de los Ferrocarriles de Madrid a Cáceres y Portugal (MCP).

The line was inaugurated on February 3, 1879 and Delicias station itself was opened shortly after, on March 30, 1880 at an event attended by King Alfonso XII. It stopped providing passenger services in 1969, but it maintained its use for freight up until the early 1980s.

The station's iron structure was made in France at the workshops of the company Fives Lille, which also built the former Paris Hippodrome and Orsay station. The French firm moved one of its engineers, Vasaille, to Madrid to build the station alongside several Spanish engineers.

Second Stop: The Beginnings of the Railroad

The steam locomotives designed by English engineers Richard Trevithick and George Stephenson were revolutionary in every way. The world's first railroad connected Stockton to Darlington (UK) in 1825 and the first steam locomotives to operate in Spain were British.

Steam locomotive Tardienta by Madrid Railway MuseumSpanish Railways Foundation

The first railroad built on the Iberian Peninsula in 1848 ran between Barcelona and Mataró. Interestingly, this was not actually the first railroad in Spain, since this accolade had already gone to the line between Havana and Güines in Cuba, which was part of Spain at that time.

The "Tardienta" Steam Locomotive has a low boiler with a huge, distinctive chimney called a "stove pipe." Its final services, operated by RENFE, ran from Delicias station, Madrid, which is now home to the Madrid Railway Museum.

Third Stop: The Steam Locomotive

Steam locomotives were the dominant form of overland transport during the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, their high fuel (coal or fuel oil) consumption and complex maintenance requirements led to the search for an alternative that used other traction systems. Steam traction continued to operate in Spain until 1975.

The steam locomotive has several key elements: the boiler (where steam is produced); the engine mechanism or valve gear (which turns steam into energy); and the wheels (which convert energy into movement).

The boiler is where the water is heated until it boils to generate steam. The main elements are the firebox, the dome, the cylinder, and the smokebox.

In steam locomotives, the firebox is the structure located at the back of the boiler where the fuel is burned. The high temperature of the firebox heats the water to produce steam.

The coupling rods are bars that turn rise and fall motion into rotation, or vice versa, to move the driving wheels of a steam locomotive.

The dome is a round container fitted to the top of the cylindrical body, and is where the steam is collected and then piped through to the cylinders. Then the cylinders compress it, and move the pistons that push the coupling rods and move the driving wheels.

Fourth Stop: Time on the Railroad

Since the dawn of the railways, railroad companies have been interested in carefully controlled and precise time measurement, as well as the smooth running of traffic, to ensure train travel is both safe and punctual. Thanks to the railway, time unification was achieved. As a result, a clock has always been a key element of any railroad station.

"St. Climent/Imperia" Master Clock: Besides showing the time on its dial, the master clock mechanism also controlled the time on a second receiver clock. A rigid transmission along the wall was used to mechanically move the hands of the receiver clock, located on the station platform, so that it displayed the same time.

Comtoise clock by Madrid Railway MuseumSpanish Railways Foundation

The Comtoise clock is a tall box clock with a French Comtoise mechanism and alabaster dial. It has 12 enameled porcelain chapters, blue Roman numerals, and a second dial with Arabic numerals.

It is an interesting piece as it was the clock used for the departure of the first train to run on the Iberian Peninsula (Barcelona to Mataró).

Fifth Stop: Electric Traction

Although some trains running by the end of the 19th century were electric-powered, it wasn't until the 20th century that electricity was deemed a suitably efficient replacement for steam traction.

Electric locomotives take electrical current from an overhead catenary contact wire along which energy can be transported several hundred kilometers.

Three-phase electric locomotive no. 3 -Brown Boveri et Cie (1907/1907) by Madrid Railway MuseumSpanish Railways Foundation

The three-Phase Electric Locomotive No.3 is one of 7 units acquired by Compañía de los Caminos de Hierro del Sur de España between 1907 and 1910 for the country's first electric Iberian-gauge railroad, which was built in 1911 between Santa Fe, Alhama, and Gérgal (on the Linares to Almería line).

The pantograph is the part of the locomotive that collects electric current from the catenary, and can move up and down to reach the height of the contact wire. The locomotives' generators or alternators then transfer the energy to the traction engines.

Sixth Stop: Diesel Traction

A diesel locomotive is a motor vehicle with a diesel-engine power plant that is used to tow trains. They are described as mechanical locomotives, electric locomotives, or hydraulic locomotives, depending on how the energy is transferred to make them move.

Diesel locomotives were late arrivals to the international railroads, as it was not until the second half of the 20th century that their use became widespread on non-electrified lines.

The impressive RENFE Diesel Locomotive 340-020-3 (1967), weighing 97 tons and measuring 66,765 feet in length (over buffers), pulled express trains between Madrid and Barcelona, as well as the famous Lusitania, Puerta del Sol, and other "high-speed" trains of the time. They could reach speeds of 80 mph.

This type of traction boomed in Spain in the 1950s with the arrival of American-made locomotives.

The 1615 Diesel Locomotive (1955) was the first diesel line locomotive to operate in Spain. Up to this point, diesel locomotives were used exclusively for shunting.

Seventh Stop: All Aboard!

The railroad term for vehicles that carry travelers is "passenger cars." This is to distinguish them from those used to transport goods, which are known as "freight cars" or "goods wagons."

Over the 19th century, fragile and precarious-looking passenger cars with 2 axes and a wooden shell were transformed into cars with a solid, comfortable metal chassis and bogies, allowing them to travel at higher speeds.

By the 20th century, improvements such as air conditioning, toilets, indoor corridors, and additional services made railroad travel an efficient and successful service.

The project to build the Talgo (Spanish acronym for the Goicoechea-Oriol light articulated train) began in the 1940s, when businessman José Luis Oriol provided financial support for engineer Alejandro Goicoechea's attempts to invent a new railroad transport system with a variable-gauge running gear.

The Talgo II commercial service was launched in 1950 on the Madrid to Irun line. The Talgo was revolutionary because it combined 3 key innovations: self-guiding wheels, an articulated design, and a light aluminum body.

It also offered passengers a revolutionary new service, with an innovative design offering new levels of comfort, including doors at platform height, supportive reclinable seats, air conditioning, an in-seat meal service, and panoramic windows.

Eighth Stop: Infrastructure Room

Like any other means of overland transport, railroads require a stable infrastructure on which trains can run as easily as possible.

This infrastructure, the most recognizable part of which is the track, is incredibly complex, and new elements and mechanisms have been incorporated to it as the railroad system has evolved, to improve the safety of the trains that run on it.

The track consists of the ballast (layer of crushed stones), ties, and rails, and is laid along the subgrade. Bridges, tunnels, embankments, and cuttings are used to overcome any difficulties in the terrain and enable trains to travel smoothly.

Railroad signals give instructions to train drivers, indicating whether they should stop or keep going. Originally, signals were mechanical signs operated by levers. However, these were later replaced by light signals and electronic interlocking systems that allow.

Communication systems have also developed significantly. The earliest railroads used telephonic block systems, whereby connected stations would notify each other of train departures and arrivals. Nowadays, there are modern automatic block systems that can control dozens of trains enabling simultaneous circulation.

The gradual introduction of electricity to replace more polluting fossil fuels, such as coal or diesel, has enhanced the complex infrastructure system, ensuring that trains can operate safely.

Credits: Story

Museo del Ferrocarril de Madrid

Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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